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Next Israeli PM reaches out for broad coalition

ISRAEL'S hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu pledged yesterday to cooperate with the United States on Middle East peace, pursuing the formation of a broad government that could cushion against friction with the Obama White House.

Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, was chosen last Friday by President Shimon Peres to try to put together a governing coalition and become prime minister for the second time.

Israel's outgoing prime minister called on Netanyahu to form a new government quickly as coalition bargaining began to shift into high gear yesterday.

Opening the weekly meeting of his soon-to-be-dissolved cabinet, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel needed a new government soon.

Negotiators should "conduct things in an effective and fast way in order to establish, as quickly as possible, a government that will enjoy full authority and will be able to rule effectively," Olmert said.

Olmert is a caretaker prime minister until Netanyahu can form a new ruling coalition. Netanyahu now has six weeks to do it.

He met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni late yesterday to try to enlist into a "national unity" government her centrist Kadima party, which favours trading large parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank for peace.

Following a February 10 election, Netanyahu already has the backing of 65 rightist members of the 120-seat parliament, but a narrow government could put him on a collision course with US President Barack Obama and his promise to move quickly on a Palestinian statehood deal.

"I intend and expect to cooperate with the Obama administration and to try to advance the common goals of peace, security and prosperity for us and our neighbors," said US-educated Netanyahu.


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